Judah Akers prays before every Belmont baseball game. But last Saturday, worship spilled onto the baseball field.
With the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament championship on the line, he wanted to make sure his message was hitting home.
“You’re at first base and you’re over there praying the whole time,” Akers recalled. “It was so funny. I was like, ‘Well, I hope they’re not seeing my mouth move over here.’”
Maybe Kennesaw State didn’t hear his prayers, but the Owls felt the wrath of Akers’ bat. The Belmont junior went 5-for-5 with a triple and a double and drove in four runs in the Bruins’ commanding victory that clinched a second straight NCAA Tournament berth.
That performance has a lot to do with the fact that Belmont (39-22) opens up the Baton Rouge Regional on Friday (2 p.m., CSS) against Oregon State (38-18). The Bruins have won nine of 10 and are hoping to build off last year, which ended in a regional final at Vanderbilt.
“The excitement doesn’t really change from last year,” Akers said earlier this week. “Maybe the shock value is not going to be as much as it was last year with the big crowds. That will really help us as far as experience goes. But it doesn’t really get much better than this.” After chipping in during Belmont’s two NCAA Tournament wins in 2011 – he batted .444 in the Nashville Regional – Akers played an essential role in getting the Bruins back to the postseason. In addition to the five hits on Saturday, the A-Sun Tournament MVP provided a huge boost in the tournament opener.
The Cookeville native scored the game-tying run in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings against Stetson. A couple hours later in the 15th inning, he ended it with a game-winning single.
“It was huge,” coach Dave Jarvis said. “It was redemptive for Judah in a lot of ways. I think it gave him confidence and that rolled right on through the rest of the tournament for him.”
Those two games served as peaks in what has been “the weirdest year” for Akers. He leads the team in hits (79) and is second in batting average (.336) and RBIs (36).
But his left leg has been a source of discomfort through 20 games as the first baseman and another 39 as the designated hitter. He injured his calf muscle, bruised his heel and in April a hamstring injury caused him to miss two games. Even so, Akers has played through the pain and started all but two contests.
“Difficult only from the aspect that it hasn’t all gone smoothly for him,” Jarvis said. “It’s not all sunshine and iced tea. But to Judah’s credit, his mental growth and maturity have allowed him to deal with those types of injuries and not let them become season long things. He’s been diligent about getting in his treatments and getting in his work. He’s matured. He’s grown a lot both on and off the field and I think it has shown and paid dividends for us right now as a ballclub.”
Despite the “tribulations, Akers has found inspiration from other sources. Prayer, of course, is right at the top.
“It’s been a grinding year. But, you know what? I feel like it’s been from the Lord too,” he said. “This year I’ve just had to really let everything go with Him and it’s really been kind of humbling this year being hurt and having to go out and grind out some at-bats with a hurt leg.
"... It’s just been such a fun year and all the glory to the Lord. There is nothing like playing in [a NCAA Regional] again and winning that A-Sun championship two years in a row. There’s nothing like it.”